Advice from a fashion photographer who’s loved nearly every minute of her ten year career.
If you’re looking to become a fashion photographer, before we begin I have to say that the streets aren’t paved with golden Polaroids. It’s a hard gig to get into, but it’s not impossible and when you get there it’s literally the best job in the world!
Very often on photo shoots or on social media, I get asked ‘How do I become a fashion photographer’, ‘What are my first steps into a career in fashion?, or ‘Who should I talk to get started? These are all valid questions and ones that I know people need answers to, but can’t always find with a simple Google search. So I thought I would break it down and share with you my tips, my advice on how you can start your life in fashion!
I have always loved fashion but it wasn’t until I picked up a camera that I knew that it had to become a job for me. For many young photographers like myself, this can seem like an impossible dream. ‘What?! I can get paid to travel around the world shooting the most beautiful new designer collections? Nah… no way’ But with hard work, passion and belief in your ability you can become a fashion photographer and get to do the thing that you love, every single day.
So, without further ado lets crack on and point you on the Testino path to greatness – pens and tripods at the ready!
Tory, How Do I Become a Fashion Photographer?
Start with Yourself
Don’t scroll past this first one, as it’s critical! To be successful in any career you need to believe in yourself and be confident in your abilities. Confidence is key in this and in any business. You ask anyone who conducts interviews, and they’ll say if they have two matching CVs in front of them, from two different people, they’re going to go with the candidate who believed in what they were saying and who showed tenacity. When you’re pitching your ideas to a brand or a magazine they need to buy into you, especially when you’re just starting out and your portfolio might not be that strong. Having warm confidence & a self belief will get your foot in the door over the wallflower standing behind you. It’s a selling business, so you have to learn to sell yourself.
When I think back to 10 years ago & starting my own business my favourite moment pitching was the day I walked into vintage boutique Revival Retro in London. I met owner Rowena, who at the time was setting up her new boutique. It was perfect timing and she trusted in me with her first photoshoot! 🙂 Since then we have built an on-going partnership, become friends and have travelled around Europe for shoots including Italy and Spain.
Here is one of my first campaign shoots for Revival Retro and still a favourite even though shot back in 2014!
Pack Up Your Stuff and Move to the City
When you’re just starting out, you need to be where the action is. If there is an urgent interview or a casting call in London for example that afternoon, but you live in Coventry – that job is going to the girl who’s 4 tube stops away. By being in the city, whichever city that may be, you are maximising your chances of landing the next job, while also being surrounded by the culture, art and people who may inspire your next shoot. Your local town may have a flourishing fashion or art scene and that is a wonderful way for you to learn the ropes and build up your confidence, but a scene is not an industry.
That Big Break Won’t Just Fall in Your Lap
In any career there is always a certain amount of luck, pure chance. But long-term, however lucky your breaks may be along the way, you only get to them by earning them. On my path to becoming a fashion photographer I was plagued by setbacks or rejections, but that only made me strive that much harder to get to where I am today. For every 8 jobs you don’t get, you’ll probably end up getting the ninth and that gig could be the stepping stone to the next – but you wouldn’t have got there without determination.
Its important to plan consistent marketing, new work updates and chase up emails. Let clients know your still alive! One of my proud moments was shooting for L’Oreal Paris with influencer Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow). My work below:
Hit the Same Note Every time
Consistency is key in photography. Maintaining a high-level in your craft will display that you didn’t have a couple of lucky shoots where the lighting was just right, or you happened to be working with the next Gigi Hadid. Bookers need to see that you can produce quality, well lit, stunning shots every time. If you’ve got a mishmash of amazing, professional photo shoots interspersed with some gloomy & unfocused shots in your portfolio, you’ll display that you can’t really be relied on. Equally, if you only show your best work and that happens to be three shots from one shoot two years ago – clients will also be wary of your ability. Obviously a portfolio with depth doesn’t happen overnight and that is where my next point neatly segways into.
Don’t Call it Working for Free, Try Working for Practice
This may be controversial as there are a lot of nasty people out there who will take advantage of your obvious ability, but lack of experience. Unlike in a lot of careers, studying fashion photography does not automatically lead to making megabucks. A good accounting student may get head-hunted before he or she has even thrown his graduation cap in the air, but unfortunately the same can not be said for fashion. It’s an art and as such it needs to be practised. You may have a certain level of natural ability but there are so many other skills that need to be acquired, and those only come with practice. The benefit of working for free is that it allows you a certain level of control, you call the shots and you get to create a shoot that represents the stylistic direction you want to be going in. These days its never been easier, don’t just contact your favourite indie fashion magazines or blogs and ask if you can shoot or assist on the photo shoots – put your own together via social media! Becoming a fashion photographer means creating your own luck, so get in touch with a new model who needs portfolio work, find a lighting guy who can borrow some equipment and needs experience, contact a stylist who’s hungry to share their new wardrobe and make something amazing together! Once the shoot is done you can then return the favour and shoot for them. Doing this, combined with working ‘for practice’ with recognised brands, influencers will give you that portfolio depth you’ll need in order to take the next step.
Find Your Niche
This is something to keep in mind as your fashion photography career develops, finding that style that is your signature will really help you to stand out from the crowd. Say you’re amazing at capturing light where there really was none or you just have a gift for turning any model into a damn superstar, whatever it is, when clients start to work with you they’ll recognise your traits and book you because of them. Analyse your work and determine the parts that are consistently good, the parts that have brought you praise and work on them.
Be One Step Ahead of the Trend Game
If you’re scrolling through Instagram and you see a look, a style, a pose more than two or three times its probably already a trend – so avoid it. Trends literally come and go, so either avoid them completely or start your own. Rework existing trends and add unexpected details that make your work stand out from the crowded masses because clients get bored with seeing the same stuff the same as we do, so mix it up!
Check Out My Instagram page
I mentioned before how useful social media can be for organising photo shoots, but as a fashion photographer its main use for you has to be staring at impossibly cute puppies marketing your work! We live in an ever-changing world that is becoming increasingly digitally focused, this may not be your cuppa tea but right now it is the most viable way of promoting yourself professionally. For most photographers the actual act of shooting and editing their pictures is only a small part of what they do, the largest part is marketing and these days, that’s on social media. Here’s a great article from Canva about how to master Instagram promotion as a photographer.
Keep it Simple
I believe it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ and that is never truer than when you’re trying to become a fashion photographer. Focus on the most important things and get them perfect. Beautiful model, good lighting and some other dramatic element such as a backdrop or hairstyle for example. If you go crazy and start styling Elizabethan petticoats with 80s backcombed hair foregrounded by a giant stuffed giraffe for example, you’re probably going to end up with a very confused image and a big budget! Keep it simple and just include one of your crazy elements.
The Fashion Photographer – One Half Artist, One Half Salesperson
Whatever you are shooting it will be intrinsically linked to selling something. Be it a hair product, makeup or a dress your photography may be beautiful but it was produced for commercial value. This is something that many young fashion photographers wrestle with, but it’s a fact that you will need to accept. I don’t say this in order to cast a negative light on the industry or the profession, what we are doing is simply mixing art with commerce. Its down to you to recognise this, once you have, your fashion photography will improve. You’ll be able to spot the elements that are not looking their best, rather than focusing just on the overall shot. If you’re hired to shoot for Gucci shoes and you think every shot looks amazing but then you take a look at them in post and realise every pair is hidden by an oversized trench coat or a bush, the lovely people at Gucci shoes aren’t going to be best pleased! Your job is to capture the product in a way that grabs the attention of the consumer and inspires them to take your art and make it their reality.
I hope that this was useful to you and I have helped in a tiny way in your journey to becoming a fashion photographer. Feel free to follow me on social media.